New answers needed for old problems

May 26, 1992|By Wiley Hall 3rd | Wiley Hall 3rd,Staff Writer

Baltimore's civic leaders of the future are likely to consist of both men and women, and be both multiracial and multicultural, members of a leadership training program agreed recently.

But although they will face many of the same urban problems that leaders confront today, they will find that the old solutions just won't cut it.

"We need a new paradigm because the old models obviously are not working," said Bruce Williams, an executive with IBM.

"We need to find a way to insure that the people who need services get them. Money isn't the issue. We're spending plenty of money. But we need to find a way to include the people we are trying to serve in the decision-making process. You empower people by giving them some kind of authority in their lives."

"We took the absolute worst of the solutions of the liberals and combined them with the absolute worst solutions offered by the conservatives," agreed Jan Houbolt of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"The liberals offered programs without accountability. The conservatives said, 'Well, you can have the programs, but we are going to put as little as we can into them.' We need to reverse that. We need real accountability, but we also need to tell people, 'We are going to invest in you.' We need a paradigm that will put people to work and give them the support they need to become successes."

Since 1984, the Greater Baltimore Committee has sponsored a program called The Leadership, where talented professionals are brought together for a yearlong series of seminars, retreats and discussions regarding the Baltimore community.

The idea has been to encourage participants in the public and private sector to begin thinking of themselves as the area's civic leaders.

But the shock and dismay that followed the verdict in the police brutality case in Los Angeles last month, as well as the urban rioting that followed, has encouraged participants of the program this year to look at their role in new ways.

Members of this year's leadership group, brought together by The Sun for a round-table discussion of the problem, agreed that the country needs to begin investing in its people, particularly in the form of education and job training.

"Education is one of the only things in this world that nobody can take away from you," said Godfrey Nelson, a vice president of Broadway Services Inc.

"But the first thing we learned when we started this leadership program is that the city spends thousands less compared to the surrounding counties. That can't be."

"We have to be able to tell people that their children will be educated with the same intensity as other children."

J. Deborah Sterrett, publisher of a new magazine, Metropolitan MBE, noted that society needs to consider education in its broadest possible sense: "It isn't just books; it is learning about .. how to live life," she said.

"First thing civic leadership has to do," said Arthur Perschetz, general counsel to the Maryland Insurance Group, "is to find a way to give people hope.

"One of the things that may have happened in L.A. was that segments of the population simply felt no hope that they could do anything at all to change their lives. The first step in getting people empowered is to give them hope that they can earn a living.

"Nobody wants hand-outs," said Mr. Perschetz. "Hand-outs don't engender hope."

Added Roland Campbell Jr., of Roland Campbell Realty, "The verdict in the Rodney King case, as negative as it was, may turn around and yield positive results. It has brought to the forefront the true state of the nation, that the plight of the cities and racism are real."

"On the other hand," said Mr. Perschetz, "leadership has got to begin to look at reality. The last 10 years have seen a huge widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and although the economy is improving, I don't see it improving to the extent that we will be able to scoop up all of the people being left behind.

"So, what we are looking toward is trying to find a way of empowering people, given the present shortage of resources."

The participants at the round-table discussion quickly reached a consensus that one key to "empowering the powerless" lay in giving the disadvantaged the opportunity to design programs to help themselves.

"These days," noted Nelson, "a program comes down from on high and the people in the community have no idea where it came from or why or what it is supposed to accomplish. You don't empower people by handing down edicts."

And, as Mr. Houbolt noted, "These days, the debate often comes down to either the family or social programs. Why not both? Why not search for a social program that focuses on the family, on strengthening the family structure?

"To say that the family is responsible changes nothing if the family isn't there," continued Mr. Houbolt. "It just allows people at the top to be self-righteous.

"Self-righteousness," he said, "is very useless as social policy."

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